Sunday, July 17, 2016

ConGregate Concluded

The best part of a convention is taking a break from the convention.
ConGregate III is over and done, at least for me, and overall it turned out a good one, with a few caveats, all having to do with the High Point Radisson Hotel. I arrived on Friday afternoon around 4 o'clock for my booksigning, and the first thing in view was a hellishly long line of people trying to check in (to the hotel, not my signing). I found out later that most Friday arrivals had a two- to three-hour wait to get a room because of a "housekeeping" issue. Ms. B. and I customarily spend one night at the hotel for nearby conventions, and this year, we had opted for Saturday night, so at least I didn't have to worry about checking in that afternoon. With the majority of con-goers apparently still trying to get checked in, the dealers' room at 4 o'clock was deserted. At 5:00 PM, I had a panel to moderate ("The Evolving Role of Authors"), and while all the panelists were on hand, we had a massive crowd of two attendees. For what it was worth, the panel turned out to be spirited, informative, and enjoyable. Then, after some geocaching and a nice dinner at Thai Chiang Mai, I drove home. Apart from the latter two activities, it was scarcely worth my time to go all the way to High Point and back.

Saturday morning, I had an early panel, a workshop, and another booksigning, so I hit the road at the ass-crack of dawn to get there. All these went smoothly enough, and this time, at least, I drew some business at the booksigning. Happily, Ms. B. showed up during the signing, and after it was done, we took a very pleasant wine break at The Vino Shoppe, which proved to be the highlight of the weekend. When we returned to the hotel (after stopping for a cache), we headed for the front desk to check in, and — for the love of god — they had no rooms available for... no one knew how long. There were already quite a few people waiting for rooms, and more coming, so I opted to go on to my next panel — "Oh, no, Tokyo! Here Comes Godzilla!," which I also moderated — before attempting to check in. This panel was well-attended and all-around enjoyable. Hey, it was Godzilla!

Afterward, we returned to the front desk, and this time, finally, three hours after the official check-in time, we managed to get a room. It proved clean and comfortable, though was noticeably shy of towels. Fortunately, after a while, a lady from housekeeping stopped by, without being asked, with a bunch of towels on hand. Bravo on this. Unfortunately, the parking garage, which used to be free for hotel guests, now charges a daily fee ($6.00, which is at least reasonable). Sadly, it looked like a trash bomb had gone off in there, particularly in the rickety old elevator. And the rest rooms in the public areas of the hotel were abominable. Filthy dirty and reeking. Now, I've got to tell you, I've stayed in this hotel couple dozen times in the past 30 years, and I've never seen it so poorly run and maintained. This morning, as a token gesture, they offered guests a free continental breakfast or 30% off the regular breakfast, but let me tell you, I've stayed in plenty of hotels that cost half what this one does and that offer continental breakfasts just as part of your stay. I don't think this token concession on the Radisson's part smoothed many tempers.

In between my con duties, Ms. B. and I headed for Little Tokyo, one of our favorite High Point dinner spots, and enjoyed an excellent sushi dinner. The last item on the con menu was "Java and Pros(e)", a well-attended author reading, featuring Darin Kennedy, Michael G. Williams, and me, along with plenty of coffee for those who cared for it, though Ms. B. and I provided our own liquid refreshment in the form of 14 Hands Red Blend.

This morning, I had a 10:00 o'clock workshop, my only duty of the day, so after that was done, Ms. B. and I headed out, she to her house and new kittens, I to a few geocaches. After finding several and replacing one of mine (which required climbing a tree) my find count stands at 8,900 — just a hundred away from the big 9K! I grabbed a fair lunch at Steak & Shake and returned home, and I've half a mind to crash and recover for a bit, as all this conventioning stuff, fussing about second-rate hotels, and tree-climbing in summer heat can about do an old fellow in.

While the hotel situation was frustrating, the con itself was well run as usual. I don't know the final number of attendees, but it looked to be somewhat less than in previous years, and several other guests remarked on the fact. I hope for the organizers' sake it was a success, but I've got to say, I may have second thoughts about returning to the High Point Radisson. I've long said that it was not adequate for the needs of StellarCon and now ConGregate. I'd love to see the con return to either Greensboro or Winston-Salem. We'll find out next year.

A beautiful High Point evening, seen from our hotel room.
And a pleasant High Point morning, at least until the summer heat kicked in with a vengeance.
Finishing off my con duties by grabbing a geocache at nearby Gibson Park.

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